Chief Minister Omar Abdullah keeps talking about the removal of Armed Forces Special Power Act from Jammu and Kashmir but remains mum on the issue of SMS Ban .
The 43 years old Chief Minister has time and again expressed his political desire on the revocation of the AFSPA but he keeps a silence on the issue of removing ban from SMS service, he has not even setting a deadline for withdrawal of SMS Ban. Though Omar promises on his face book page “I can say with confidence that AFSPA withdrawal will take place during the tenure of this government and that day is also not very far”
It is pertinent to mention here so far neither the Chief Minister nor his government has made any official written request to the Center for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act and this is also mere a lip service to woo the innocent people.
The Chief Minister and government must concentrate what is ‘Do-able’ and I don’t think that the State Chief Minister is so helpless as he claims to be and if he sincerely wants to remove the ban from SMS service this is quite possible and it would obviously helpful for him and the party to reclaim their image as a pro-youth, pro-democracy. The decision of withdrawing or continuing AFSPA in the state is a time consuming debate and cannot be done away within days or months and it would also needs long deliberations amongst not only the political parties but also the security experts.
Here in J & K, there is a complete ban on Short Message Service (SMS) services of prepaid mobile subscribers, in the year 2010 the Government ordered for a ban on SMS services of the subscribers of all the telecom companies operating in the state of J&K. But after a considerable period the Government lifted the ban on SMS services of post paid subscribers but unfortunately the Ban on prepaid subscribers remained enforce till date even after a lapse of considerable period of around 3 years. The ban on SMS service was imposed by the government on the grounds that it was being used to spread rumors and to incite violence and hence posing a problem for law and order related issues.
As per Government’s version with the SMS’s the anti social,anti national elements spread rumors and other false news/information of atrocities by police , Paramilitary and other security agencies and this led to violence and protest including stone pelting by the people who get provoked by the false propaganda against state through SMS. No one can argue that keeping law and order is the state’s right and duty and decision of the State Government in safeguarding the security interest of the state and its citizens is essential but putting a ban on the pre paid subscribers only and that too for a long period of almost 3 years is illogical and need to be reviewed and quashed by the concerned competent authorities without any further delay.
In this era of advanced Information technology the selective ban on SMS services of Prepaid mobile subscribers is not only unconstitutional, non democratic, useless and illogical but also become totally irrelevant especially due to launching of new software’s, application like Whatsapp, social networking sites like face book, orkut and twitter etc. There is a wide spread use of these messaging services like Whatsapp these days these applications not only serve as text message carrier but also transmit Images, videos, audios files at a much faster speed and that too without any cost.
This ban on SMS service is only confined up to the poor people who cannot afford sophisticated and Smart mobile sets which are now a days available in the market with a small amount of 4 to 5 thousand rupees. Instead of cracking a whip on the anti social and anti national elements and strengthening their own mechanism of monitoring the activities of the suspicious persons who are instrumental in spreading the rumors which poses a threat to the law and order situation. The State Government has banned the SMS services of all the prepaid subscribers of the state and thus made the common man a sufferer and deprived them of their rights . The State Government justifies ban on the SMS services of prepaid mobile subscribers of the state on the grounds that through SMS rumors and false information spreads and which in turn incites violence and hence poses a threat to the law and order in the state.
Government’s justification on ban puts a grave question mark on the integrity, loyalty and patriotism of all the prepaid mobile subscribers of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and thus projects the subscribers of prepaid mobile in a very poor light and with suspicions in public life and thus the ban on SMS is a clear violation of the right of the prepaid mobile subscribers to live a dignified life. The constitutional guarantee of equality is being flouted with impunity in the state as both the prepaid and post paid subscribers are being treated unequal by the order of the Govt. to ban SMS services of prepaid mobile subscribers of the state. Once again , I would urge the union and state government to remove the ban from pre-paid SMS services and let the poor people of the state also exercise their right to freedom of expression and information. Hope good sense prevails and the ban is removed henceforth.
(Raman Sharma is an RTI activist and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org )